The Presidents and Vice Presidents of Penn State’s three student governments (UPUA, CCSG, and mine, GPSA) serve in non-voting roles on the Penn State Board of Trustees and its committees. Each year, the President of each student government is asked to give remarks to the Trustees at the final meeting in the Presidents’ respective term. It’s an occasion that we always look forward to — more recently, the Presidential speeches have shifted from a boring outline the year’s accomplishments to more broad topics about the health and governance at Penn State.
It was an honor last month to give my second final speech to the Board (this one, is in fact, “final”) on a vision for Penn State that spans far beyond the corporate enterprise — the concept that the purpose of Penn State is not just to provide degrees and practical job skills, but a part of people’s soul. The video and transcript are below. I encourage you to stick around after me to listen to UPUA President Terry Ford, whose friendship and persistent debate about the issues he discusses have made me — and I hope both of us — better, more thoughtful Penn Staters. CCSG Vice President Shawn Lichvar, another great partner over the past two years, speaks just before me.
If nothing else, the three of us got a badass picture out of it.
Good afternoon. My name is Kevin Horne and I’m president of the graduate student government. It is an honor to address you for the second straight year about the state of our student governments and the student experience at Penn State.
I spoke last time about Penn State’s fifteenth president Eric Walker, who often thought about the concept of the university having TWO presidents – both himself and the student body president. This is a time when the Penn State student governments had offices and held their meetings in Old Main, ran the library, built and paid for the HUB all on their own, and contributed to a great deal many things that continue to enrich Penn State student life today.
Higher education has changed significantly since the days of Eric Walker’s “two presidents,” but some glimmer of these past monuments of shared governance still shines brightly today. Our President and the rest of the administration have trusted students to allocate the entirety of the $40 million generated from student fees. Through that new process, the students decided to end the CAPS funding crisis. With a contribution of more than $800,000 committed by the Student Fee Board last week, this ensures that no Penn State student will need to wait for mental healthcare ever again.
Students have been successful advocating on issues of all sorts, including diversity and inclusion, transportation, residence life, town and gown relations, campus recreation, educational policy, and yes, even LionPATH. We are in the midst of selecting the next student trustee. You will be able to read about these successes in an upcoming written report, so I won’t spend my five minutes talking about myself, but rather, how I hope this Board can move forward with our successors and to create a better future for Penn State.
It can be easy, if you only watch these meetings, to forget why we are all here in the first place. Dealing with crisis and tragedy, constant litigation, and enormous expenses that will ultimately be passed on to students can be disheartening. Handling these things is one of the central roles of the Board of Trustees but not the ONLY role, or even the most important role. If the corporate side of Penn State is all one consumes, it can be easy to lose sight of what made us all love and want to serve Penn State in the first place.
Every year we congratulate ourselves on how many degrees have been conferred and how many students have received jobs or professional advancement with their degrees. Whether a Penn State education means more than that is not often asked, and certainly not often asked in this room. I believe the idea of a university calls for more.
Students are not customers, as some trustees or administrators refer to them. When we log in to LionPATH and are forced to schedule courses by adding them to what is called a Shopping Cart, the Penn State experience becomes more transactional and shallow, less special, and the spirit of our Founders less vibrant. College must be more than just the acquisition of job skills or the certification of courses passed.
Justin Morrill’s idea in the Land Grant Act was the goal of building “a new type of citizenship.” The real meaning of a University, as Homer phrased it, is “to strive always for the highest excellence, and to excel all others.”
What Penn State leads out of Her students and alumni is excellence, which is the real proof of Her worth. To explore the true meaning of the University is to turn the pursuit of excellence into an adventure of mind and character.
To give enlargement to the ideas of our age we must first enlarge our own minds. We have here in the Nittany Valley the traditions, customs, history, dreams, hopes, feelings, and people necessary to achieve any goal we put our minds to. We’ve shown this creative spirit once before when Penn State was founded. We’ve shown it time and time again, even in the face of the worst possible circumstances. We can show it again now. We can, if we choose, take on the challenge of giving the idea of a University community new meaning as a living ideal.
Provost Jones said it best yesterday in one of the committee meetings. The committee was discussing the next capital plan and its impact on tuition – how if we didn’t build or renovate dozens of buildings, and pass the cost on to students, Penn State would be substantially harmed. The Provost said, simply, “Our University is about people. It’s what’s inside those buildings that counts. At the end of the day, what attracts students to Penn State is the faculty members and the other students inside the buildings.”
What kind of University is Penn State? A former Penn State Trustee wrote that “the Penn State Spirit is indestructible, but only if, in a practical sense, we allow it to come alive inside of us.” If we can conceive of our place as something far beyond the role of students as customers, we have begun to answer that question. It is on all of us here, and you, as the ultimate governing board, to open your hearts and cultivate a vision for the future of Penn State as vast and ambitious as that of our Founders.
Only then will we have met the challenge of the question “What kind of University is Penn State?” Only then will we honor what has always made Penn State great.
There’s something magic happening here, in between Mount Nittany and Bald Eagle Mountain. There’s something magic here that called Evan Pugh back from Europe to start the Farmers High School. There’s something magic here that called Eric Barron away from his Alma Mater and back to the Nittany Valley to lead us today. It’s the same magic that spoke to all of our hearts, and compelled all of us into this room today, to serve Dear Old State, and I insist, it’s a magic worth protecting.
Thank you for your time, and I look forward to the students’ continued engagement with all of you.